Sunday, 27 July 2014

Notes from the Other Island

Not a lot happened in March from memory. The one thing that sticks out in my diary is Shrove Tuesday - pancake day. For that I went along to Holy Trinity and ate some pancakes - I made the mistake of having one pancake for every savoury filling, where I should've just had all the savoury stuff on on pancake, and saved more room for the sweet stuff. I think they also made them the old school way with fat instead of butter, so they were probably a bit heavier than usual.

Shrove Tuesday of course marks the beginning of Lent. Usually  I don't bother with giving up something for Lent as I think it is more "a religious practice" rather than being a relationship with God, however this year I decided I would challenge myself and give up cheese for Lent. I thought it would be a good idea for health reasons, but also because it would also test and extend my cooking repertoire, and to be fair, it is one of the few things I love with a passion, where a lot of things I can give or take.

I thought when I first started that I would get to a stage where I'd want to stab someone due to cheese cravings, but surprisingly that didn't last long and I didn't miss out too much. 

We had Stocktake at work at the end of March, notable mainly because we get pizzas or KFC for lunch.

I managed to go to a NZ Society of Genealogists meeting. What was most memorable was a story that was told. Apparently earlier this year they gave members names taken from the War Memorials around town. Someone had been given two brothers - the Burbush brothers. My ears pricked up, as there is a road on the western outskirts of Hamilton called Burbush road. I used to use it to go and visit my late Grandmother when she lived in the Brylyn retirement home in Te Kowhai. It is still a useful road to use to get from my parents house onto the new expressway. Anyhow, what really got my attention was when it was mentioned that one of the brothers married a Lily Foote. Some of my ancestors are Footes - you may have heard my story of meeting some fellow Kiwis at one of my local pubs in London, and one of them was a Foote, and turned out to be a third cousin.

Early in April we celebrated Dad's 60th birthday with a lunch at a clients café. The funny thing was, it was a surprise, and Dad had been there that week to install some dispensers, so Mum had to make sure they knew not to mention it to him.

That Monday night my old good mate from Tech days, Steve, stayed at my place. He was over from Sydney to also catch up with a mate over from San Diego. It was nice catching up again - he had been over in November, but prior to that we hadn't caught up physically since 2005. We watched an episode of The GC - a reality show akin to The Only Way Is Essex, about Kiwis living in the Gold Coast in Australia, before heading into town for dinner, and then doing a bit of nostalgia tour around houses where Steve had lived. 

The following week we had dinner with my Aunties, in celebration of my father's birthday, and then I helped out with Front of House at the Riverlea Theatre for The Seagull - by Anton Chekhov. The benefit was I got to see most of it, for a limited amount of helping. It was OK, but not the most interesting play.

On the Thurs (17th April) my grand journey began -
After work I went home and quickly cleaned up, did some washing, and headed to our family friends from farming days, the Van Houttes, at Mapiu.

Good Friday 
I Woke up had a good breakfast of eggs and catch up with Marilyn.
Once I got going I stopped at Taumarunui and pumped up my tyres (not something I do regularly, however I thought it was a good idea considering the amount of kilometres I was about to undertake - for the record, I calculated it to be approximately 2,500kms) and topped up the oil.

As it turns out I'm not the best for "just driving" and made numerous stops and slight detours along the way to check things out, such things included - 
- The last spike laid of the railway (main trunk line)
- The monument for the Tangiwai railway disaster. It was here that I also realised that Karioi was there, which happened to be where my ancestor Hermann Bartz died, (not in the Tangiwai disaster though)
- The Raurimu spiral.
- The Makatote viaduct (see below)

Eventually I got to Wellington, with 2 hours to spare - they tell you to be an hour early, but they didn't let us on until the time on the ticket anyway.

The Ferry ride across was OK, much better than the time I remember when I was a kid, where from memory I remember it rolling from side to side. Unfortunately it was already dark, so the scenery outside went to waste. So instead I just watched Seven Days and Jono and Ben at Ten on the TV.
What I didn't realise for the longest time is that the South Island isn't directly south of Wellington, and you don't even enter the Marlborough Sounds at the top. 
It appears taking your dog across the strait was a bit more common than I realised. They get you to turn the sound on your car alarm off, as the rocking will set it off, and the noise would distress the animals. 
Got off and set up tent in the dark at Picton, quite proud of myself, as New Years 2008/2009 was the last time I put it up.

I woke up, and soon after a train went across the track above - that viaduct pictured below going through the campground is the train track.  Once I got sorted I drove to Nelson via the inland road, as opposed to the Queen Charlotte Drive, as it was relatively wet. I got to Andy's around lunchtime. It was good catching up - last time we had caught out was briefly in early 2009 before I went to London. It was also nice to sleep in the nice Sleep out for a couple of nights after the night in a tent in Picton. We had a BBQ dinner with some of Kirstie and Andy's friends.
We took a drive out to Golden bay, and ended up having lunch at interesting pub. It had a B and B in a shoe, some eels in a creek etc, interesting for kids as well.

For dinner we had meat Slow cooked with Marmite as the stock. When I was a kid I never liked Marmite, but this was good.

I Waited for Andy to get back from mountain biking then we had lunch before I left. I went and briefly caught up with Fiona, a family friend from way back before I headed to lake Pearson via Murchison etc - it was quite a drive as you almost have to go to Greymouth, then come back through Arthur's pass.
I eventually got there, broke the handle on my glove box trying to get it open, and then set up my tent in the dark and freezing cold.
I Got up, took some photos as you can see,  before heading off, although I didn't get far before stopping at the caves place down the road, and had a walk around. Looks like I need to come back, as you could go through the cave system, but you'd want to use a wet suit as it was a lot of trekking up a stream. And I'd imagine it would be a lot safer and enjoyable in summer compared to then.

I got to Springfield and had a breakfast of pies.
Stopped again briefly at Oxford, I hoped the museum was open but it wasn't so I just had a quick look at Jo Seagar's restaurant/cafe/cookery school. I filled up with Petrol at Rangiora or Amberley. How I got on petrol wise, was I bought along my petrol canister for my lawnmower and therefore wasn't victim to high petrol prices in remote locations, and combined with the capacity of my petrol tank I could go for 600km without needing to use a petrol station.

Got to Hanmer springs, and set up my tent - nice to do it in the light for a change. Cooked dinner, and then had about 2 hours at the pools.

Woke and packed up, went to the pools again, and headed off again at about lunchtime to Kaikoura.
It was around this time that I had a brainwave and wondered if I could change the icon on my SatNav from an arrow - what do you know - Yes I can! I believe this one is called "Family Car", but I like it as it does look like my car.

I had lunch at Waiau and shortly after the road joined back onto State Highway 1. The road to Kaikoura was beautiful, ocean on one side, and a train track going through numerous tunnels on the other. I got to Kaikoura reasonably early in the afternoon- once again it was nice to be all set up well before dark. Went across to the whale watch station and made sure it was all go for the next day. Did my washing etc, cooked and ate a bit while waiting. Later walked into town- pretty much dead. Concluded with a burger and hot chocolate at a fish and chip shop.

Woke up and got sorted for the whale watching. I delayed having breakfast as I wasn't sure whether it was wise eating beforehand or not, remembering of my time crossing Foveaux strait to Stewart island. It was nice not having to pack myself and my tent up again for a change.
Whale watch was good, not too rough - saw one whale on the surface and then it going under. Like my sister Suzanne said, it seems almost too well timed, as they know when it is going to dive. After the whale dove, we cruised around and found some dolphins and different birds- they did a good job talking about them. 
Kaikoura is a beautiful place, the ocean on one side of you, and mountains on the other side. On top of that is the train tracks and it's tunnels that run alongside the road along the coast both North and South.
After returning back I saw some stuff in the gift shop I was keen to buy, but decided to come back after the afternoon crowd had headed off, and grab some fish and chips for lunch when I did.
So I returned to the campground, literally just over the train tracks. I'd seen they had pedal cars and was keen to try, if they let me. They did, in fact gave me double the amount of time. Turns out it is quite a work out, especially as my legs weren't used to working at that angle. Unfortunately the pedal car wasn't as good at handbrake skids as I'd hoped. 

I returned to the whale watching gift shop, unfortunately the cafe had shut once the afternoon crowd had left for the cruise, I then had to wait until the gift shop finished doing the banking - which they do between the two cruisings. I accepted that, knowing from experience how trying it can be to get the banking done in-between customers. 

Once I bought some stuff I went down to the shops and finally had some lunch of fish and chips at Hine's Takeaways. Admittedly I underestimated how much they would give me- which would explain why they were voted best fish and chip shop in the South Island, and the second best in New Zealand (second only to the Mangonui Fish Shop - which I have been to once, as it is up near Kaitaia, where I used to live) Subsequently had a bit of driving explore - noted the Kiwi experience bus was in town, which I hoped translated into more nightlife than the night before (it did a little, but my lack of enthusiasm didn't help.)
After that, I had a spa, and walked back to town and had dinner at the Irish pub - lamb shanks.

Friday (Anzac Day) 
I got up relatively early, packed up and left. Got to Blenheim early enough for a BK breakfast. Burnt some of it off on the basketball hoop shooting game there. Carried on north, through Seddon etc, and got to Picton. Recently I read a book called The 1 Thing: A Small Epic Journey Down New Zealand's Mother Road, by Bob Moore - it was a narrative of his journey along the whole of State Highway One, and how he tried to do one thing at every place along the way. I had kept an eye on his list of things since I had re-joined State Highway One just after Waiau, south of Kaikoura, but hadn't really been able to make the most of it, until now - at Picton he had mentioned the Edwin Fox - a ship, or at least the remains of the hull- the museum which was closed, but I could see enough of it to satisfy my curiousity. A short walk further on was the ferry terminal, so I went and found out where to take my car, and subsequently did.
The Anzac Memorial at Picton - quite fitting as it was Anzac day when I was there.
The last bit of the South Island before entering the open waters of the Cook Strait.
The ferry trip was nice, not too rough, and in daylight, so I spent the majority of the trip on the top deck- was nice to see how the two islands sit together, and the landscape of the sounds and the lighthouses of the Wellington harbour.
I believe this is the island in the Wellington harbour where Naturalised Germans got interned to during World War One. As far as I know my German ancestors must've escaped that fate, as Hermann Bartz, my Great Great Grandfather died in 1915 (in Karioi - as mentioned above) and my Grandmother was born in 1915, which would suggest her father (born in New Zealand) wasn't interred

Once I got off the ferry I headed to Masterton via State Highway 2, which turned out to be the most treacherous road of the whole trip, as the road goes over the Rimutaka hill, and I was doing it after dark.

I stayed in the Chanel court motel- the one bit of luxury I allowed myself- a small but nice room- I actually fell asleep lying the wrong way around (ie head at the foot of the bed) while watching 7 days and Jono and Ben at Ten.

Next morning got up and went to BK for breakfast. From there I went to a farmers market, bought some cheese and fejoas and chatted to the fejoa guy about my Pak choy growing in my garden- checking it was actually that. From there I went to another market, picked up some spices for my spice rack.

Headed back to motel, showered and got ready for the wedding I was attending. There was a knock on the door, it turned out that people down a few units were also friends of James' and also going to the wedding, so I caught a ride with them, and again later to the reception.

The Wedding and reception was good, they had a bit of an activity sheet which was fun.

The next day I headed north, lunch at Taihape, and just outside of Te Awamutu I stopped to buy some mushrooms from a roadside stall, but had no cash. I was desperate for the toilet by the time I got to Ohaupo, but thankfully found a toilet. Came back to Hamilton - and went straight to Riverlea for my first rehearsal of Open All Hours - but being an hour late the door was locked, and considering I wasn't an integral part I didn't want to make a big scene to get let in so I just waited to half time to get let in.

All in all it was a great trip, for once I didn't get sick, the only casualty was my glove box, which I subsequently replaced for about $10 from the Pick-a-Part, and the cost wasn't too bad. The interesting thing was, because I didn't fly across, it didn't feel like I was on another island - even though I knew I'd been on a boat. By the way - the title is a play on the title of one of Bill Bryson's books - Notes from a Small Island - which was about his journey around Britain - the first of his books I had read.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Fast Food Review

Somehow recently I came up with the idea of this blog entry.
Admittedly the research for this blog was quite fun, in fact, I'm so dedicated to my blog I had to research two of the following burgers for a second time, to do the review justice.

McDonalds burgers

For the Football World Cup, currently being held in Brazil at time of writing, McDonald's has released three country-themed burgers, as well as a Spanish breakfast item, and an English apple pie - I haven't gotten around to trying the latter two, but I have tried the three burgers - see my review below. It should be noted that at over $8 a burger, they don't help themselves to become more than a once-off purchase.

Brazil burger
A sour cream and a BBQ/bourbon type sauce with a slight spice kick at the end (no pun intended)

From memory it was nice, but not particularly memorable (hence why I had to have it twice before reviewing it.

The sour cream seems to make lots of burgers nice - I know several of the burgers I like at BurgerFuel (a Kiwi gourmet burger chain, taking the Middle East by storm - and I happen to have shares in it, purchased way back in 2007 when they had their IPO - my first foray into the stock market) seem to use sour cream. At the same time, I think the salad and lack of cheese makes it less greasy and makes it feel healthier, but I may just be being swayed by this picture.

Argentina burger
Like a glorified double cheese burger - imagine a double Quarter-Pounder with cheese, with some chilli thrown in for a slight kick.
This is a burger I would have again - the excess of meat and the cheese, grease and slight spice kick give it a place in my memory. I wouldn't say it is particularly different to McDonalds' burgers in general, but the spice kick seems to complement and add to what I already like about McDonald's cheeseburgers. This factor gives it the potential to be addictive.

The French burger
A chicken patty with lettuce and a mustard sauce. It reminds me of a KFC Mayo burger albeit with a mustardy kick, as mustard replaces the mayonnaise. Alright, but certainly not nice enough to be addictive.
Cronuts seem to be, or at least have been, somewhat of a worldwide phenomenon. I first became aware of them from a news story on Seven Sharp. Basically they are supposed to be a cross between a doughnut and a croissant (they are ring shaped like a doughnut, but are made from croissant dough. From my initial understanding, I thought they were then supposed to be impregnated with cream or custard into the airy pastry, however as you can see below in both cases the custard/cream is just sandwiched in the middle of two halves.

When I first got serious about locating a Cronut to try I Googled them and found a list of places. The first place was an Italian café/specialty supermarket, who as it turned out, had stopped doing them the week before as they seemed to have done their dash. The next place was doughnut shop (Momma's donuts on Kahikatea Drive) which only did them on Fridays and Saturdays, and seemed to sell out of them early in the day. After several weeks of trying, I was then informed they no longer did them anymore as well.
My first success was at Mavis and Co., which ironically is in the same carpark as my gym... They call them Dosants rather than Cronuts, and from memory I believe they seemed to be harder - I think they were probably egg-glazed and iced with icing. They were OK, but not addictive or particularly memorable. 
A "Dosant" from Mavis & Co., Hamilton East
It was quite by accident that I discovered my local bakery (Tommo's, at the Urlich shopping centre) does Cronuts. I saw the sign one day when I went in there, but they didn't have any that day, nor the next. However they did the following weekend. I would probably rate these much higher as they have a softer doughnut-like texture, and are filled with custard cream, which I am quite partial too. In saying that, they weren't enough to become an addiction, which is probably just as well considering they are available at my local bakery. On a positive, they are only $2.50 - cheap considering the novelty factor.
A "Cronut" from Tommo's Bakery, Urlich Shopping Centre.

Lastly, but not least -

KFC Double Downs
Picture borrowed from -check them out!
Double Downs originally made an appearance in 2011, and seem to reappear around about the same time yearly ever since. This years incarnations include the Original, as well as the Kentucky and Hash Double downs. The graphic above makes it pretty self-explanatory. My two cents-worth is that I'd stick to the Original, as that seems to have the most attraction to me - I think it is the Special Sauce (back in 2011 I got quite addicted to them, and I blame my current weight in part to them). The only difference between the Hash and the Kentucky is that the Hash has a Hash brown. I'm usually a fan of BBQ sauce, but it seems to be too cliché here, and simply isn't as nice or complimentary to the Double Down as the Special Sauce is. Again, due to the cheapest of these being $8+, there is a natural deterrent to developing an addiction for them again.
All in all, eat sensibly. I wrote this for a bit of fun, and also so my calorie consumption wasn't all in vain.